Sean Bobbitt and Reed Morano have a common perspective. Both have been cinematographers on scores of projects, and each sees a script from a visual point of view. And when Bobbitt shot 2012’s “The Place Beyond the Pines,” Morano was there as second unit director. So when Morano invited Bobbitt aboard “The Rhythm Section,” a daughter-turned-assassin thriller starring Blake Lively and Jude Law and produced by “Bond” franchise matriarch Barbara Broccoli, he didn’t hesitate to sign up.
“[Reed] has very strong ideas — visual ideas — which is what you’d expect from a fellow cinematographer,” says Bobbitt, well known for his work with Steve McQueen. “It was all about Reed.”
His challenge with “The Rhythm Section” was to create two visual worlds for Lively’s Stephanie Patrick, a woman who begins the movie as a drug-addicted prostitute, damaged and unstable, and transitions into a highly motivated assassin seeking to avenge her family’s death in a plane crash that was no accident. In preproduction, Bobbitt and Morano decided to create two distinct feelings for the film — first the chaotic world of drugs and prostitution, then the cold calculation of the assassin. “We wanted this film to feel as intimate yet as epic as it could,” Bobbitt says.
For some of the more intimate shots with Lively, he handed the camera over to Morano, knowing that their vision was the same and there’d be no break in the visual narrative. “The common language was there from the beginning for us both,” he says, “and her understanding of what a camera could do — the way she worked to get the performance to tell the story.”
Morano, who still collects occasional credits as a cinematographer, made her directing debut with 2015’s “Meadowland,” starring Olivia Wilde. She also helmed 2018’s “I Think We’re Alone Now,” with Peter Dinklage, and won an Emmy for her direction of the “Offred” episode of Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Bobbitt shares the secret to Morano’s success: “Reed is extremely eloquent in her ability to express ideas and get them across very precisely and succinctly.”
For “The Rhythm Section,” they shot wide format and found a subtle way to differentiate the stages of Lively’s movement through their choice of lenses. Along with Alexa XT and Alexa Mini cameras, they used Canon Xtal Express anamorphic lenses. As Stephanie’s life becomes more stable, they drifted into more stable lenses.
“The older Hawke C-series still have a funky, anamorphic element to them but are slightly cleaner than the Xtal Express lenses,” Bobbitt notes. “As we were filming, we sort of fell in love with [the Xtals], so we’d used them for moments of high tension. And with Tom Poole of Company 3 in New York — whom Reed and I have always worked with — we developed a strong look to augment the feel of those lenses and to help tell that story of Stephanie’s transition.”